It’s been said that Silicon Valley didn’t happen on purpose.
Of course, the story of how the biggest tech hub in the world came to be is more complicated than a simple tagline, but it holds elements of truth. Nobody got together and said, “Let’s build a startup hub!” When Silicon Valley started coming together, startup ventures, as we know them today, weren’t even really a thing.
But now we see startup hubs popping up in cities like Boulder, New Haven and Orlando, and a lot of that development has definitely been intentional.
How did they do it? How can a city in need of an economic spark create strategies that will make it the next Austin?
With real-estate sky-high in Silicon Valley, and many other cities with thriving startup cultures becoming more expensive, the time is right to plant the seeds that can grow into the next innovation hub.
Here are five key ways cities can create the right conditions for an innovative startup culture to grow and flourish:
Accidentally on purpose
While you can do a lot of things on purpose, it takes a certain amount of luck to get things going, as evidenced by Silicon Valley’s history of innovation. But being lucky is only part chance — you can stack the chips in your favor.
Creating strategies with long-term goals in mind will plant seeds and build connections that will eventually lead to a sustainable startup economy. You never know which investor might connect with the right entrepreneur that ends up in the next billion-dollar company.
As Nick Birch writes in VentureBeat, “Communities need to develop strategies for attracting, retaining, and retraining talent pipelines for the myriad roles in tech startups.” He proposes more events like Austin’s South by Southwest (SXSW) festival, where what was originally a music festival now maintains a heavy innovation element.
Beyond big events like SXSW, weekly meetups are a great starting point. Get people together in a room, talking and sharing, from different aspects of the technology world: investors, CEOs, engineers, recruiters, endowment fund managers — anyone who is interested in building a strong startup community.
Make resources easily accessible
Startups need a lot of things: money, office space and mentorship to name a few (and of course, foosball tables).
Those things don’t just magically come together for most cities. It takes a combination of private, public and financial sectors coming together to institute policies, regulations and strategies that make a location friendly to startups.
In south Denver, there are multiple organizations that offer mentorship for new entrepreneurs, such as the Colorado chapter of Innovators International, as well as accelerators who offer a full spectrum of startup support like Tie Rockies.
Organizations like this aren’t born in silos: It takes a concentrated effort among government, community leaders, regional universities and local entrepreneurs to provide the resources new startup companies need.
And not just providing resources, but making them easy to find and utilize.
Invest in quality of life
The state of Pennsylvania has been investing in Pittsburgh’s riverside, and it’s paying off.
Pittsburgh is now one of the leading centers of innovative tech, particularly in the healthcare segment. Once the scene of massive job losses in the 1980s, Pittsburgh is now the place every city looking to create a startup hub wants to emulate.
A big part of that has been revamping the city’s riverside areas, where abandoned industrial buildings have been left to crumble, but are now being turned into attractive trails for biking and recreation.
Creating a startup culture means creating a city where recent college grads want to stay put, where high-end talent wants to move and where investors want to spend lots of money. That begins with investing in projects that benefit the entire population.
The perfect size
New York City will always have plenty of startups, but it will also always have plenty of bodegas, movie studios, taxis and basically any other industry.
If you’re a mid-size city in the middle of America, you don’t have to turn yourself into New York City to encourage innovative startups to come to town.
When John Tierny, a writer for The Atlantic, looked into how cities like Pittsburgh transformed into startup hubs, he found that the city’s manageable size made it feel friendly and appealing for entrepreneurs.
As one of his interview subjects, Rich Lunak, put it: “It’s easy to find the support you need, to get involved, and get integrated.”
Easy to navigate public transportation, public spaces and festivals, and projects that encourage bringing citizenry together can help to make a city feel smaller, even if when it’s not.
Entrepreneurs have enough to worry about; a city that feels manageable and easy to navigate immediately becomes attractive.
Bring diverse leaders together
Take a look at this list of comeback cities, and you’ll find one common thread: Nearly all of them, at some point, realized the importance of diversifying their economy.
To create a sustainable environment for new and existing business, you can’t hang your hat on one thing. If oil is the lifeblood of the city, what happens when prices inevitably go on a roller coaster ride?
To weather those storms, it’s imperative for leaders to come together and foster innovation in a variety of categories. This means no one single voice can provide the answer.
Creating a culture where industry leaders share best practices, insights and visions of the future is important, and it’s even more beneficial when those visions don’t match up. The same is true for crafting strategies that will foster startup growth.
Challenging one another in a transparent but productive setting will reveal the right steps to take if you really want to create an economy that’s friendly to startups. No single approach will get it done, so no single person will be able to do it by themselves.
Wherever you’ve been, there you are
It doesn’t matter if you’re located on the coasts, where traditional startup hubs usually are, or if you’re closer to a corn farm than the ocean — with the right people coming together to plant the right seeds, we live in a time where Anywhere, USA, can become the next hub of startup innovation.